Contract for silencers leads to web of Pentagon secrets

A U.S. Marine from Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires a semi-automatic sniper system at a marksmanship training event near Camp Buehring during Exercise Eager. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Childers/Released)

Spanning two years, an investigation into a civilian naval intelligence official and a hot-rod auto mechanic has led to separate trials involving conspiracy to manufacture untraceable automatic-rifle silencers.

The Washington Post reported that the silencers were ordered by a little-known Navy intelligence office at the Pentagon.  The Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Integration office, made up of mostly retired personnel, somehow had the Navy pay the auto mechanic $1.6 million for 349 silencers that cost less than $10,000 in parts and labor.  Ironically, the mechanic was the brother of the boss of the directorate.

According to the Stars and Stripes, most of the documentation in the investigation had been filed under seal on national security grounds.  The root of the case is whether the silencers were properly purchased for an authorized secret mission or were assembled for a rogue operation.

A former senior Navy official described directorate officials as “wanna-be spook-cops.” Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he added, “I know it sounds goofy, but it was like they were building their own mini law enforcement and intelligence agency.”

Navy officials declined to comment, the Washington Posted reported, citing the ongoing investigation and prosecution. “The Department of the Navy has fully cooperated with law enforcement since this investigation was initiated and will continue to fully cooperate,” said Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.

Prosecutors stated that the silencers were purchased for a “special access program,” or a highly secretive military operation.  The silencers were allegedly needed for a program code-named UPSTAIRS but no other details were found in documents filed with the courts.

Sorting out the truth has been even more difficult by the destruction of potential evidence.

During a pretrial hearing, a defense attorney for the auto mechanic, Mark S. Landersman, accused the Navy of obstructing the investigation by destroying a secret stash of automatic rifles that the silencers were designed for.  Prosecutors called the matter classified and objected to further discussion in open court.

The Stars and Stripes reported that a different source, a current senior Navy official, confirmed that an arsenal of AK-47-style rifles in a warehouse in Mechanicsburg, Pa., had been destroyed within the past year. However, the official hinted that the weapons were being kept for a different purpose and that there were no plans to have them equipped with silencers.

Hall argued that documentation regarding the purchase was confiscated and burned by Navy personnel and is crucial to his defense. He said the documents included handwritten notes and other papers showing the undersecretary of the Navy at the time had authorized the project.  He insists that he received verbal approval for the secret program from Robert C. Martinage, a former acting undersecretary of the Navy.

Back in January, Martinage was forced to resign after investigators looking into the silencer deal found evidence that he had engaged in personal misconduct. However, the officials stated the misconduct was unrelated to the silencer contract.  He is expected to be a key witness at Hall’s trial.

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